Texas AG Ken Paxton Violated Open Records Law, DA Says
AUSTIN, Texas — The Travis County District Attorney’s Office issued a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that he had broken the state’s open records law by failing to turn over communications related to the Jan. 6, 2021, rally he attended prior to the attack on the Capitol.
The letter, sent on Thursday by director of Public Integrity and Complex Crimes, Jackie Wood, was prompted by complaints from the editors of the state’s five largest newspapers: The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Houston Chronicle, the Austin-American Statesman and the San Antonio Express-News.
The newspapers’ top editors alleged in their complaint to the Travis County District Attorney that Paxton’s communications from Jan. 5, to Jan. 13, 2021, are subject to release under Texas’ open records law and that Paxton was improperly concealing them. Wood’s letter gave Paxton until Monday to comply and turn the records over or else be subject to a lawsuit.
The journalists had requested Paxton’s communications in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, as well as communications he received concerning state business on Feb. 12, 2021, and messages exchanged between Paxton and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on Feb. 19, 2021, that related to official state business. Responses from Paxton in relation to the information requests were dismissed under claims of attorney-client privilege or denied because of a lack of information responsive to the requests, according to Wood’s letter.
“After a thorough review of the Complaint, the [Travis County District Attorney’s] office has determined that Paxton and the OAG violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code,” Wood wrote in the letter to Paxton. “The TCDAO will file an action against Paxton and the OAG for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, if they do not cure the violations before the fourth day after the date they receive this notice.”
Both Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, were present at the Jan. 6 rally in which former President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that widespread voter fraud led to his Electoral College defeat. Paxton would go on to spearhead the legal effort to overturn the election results under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction in the case Texas v. Pennsylvania.
Alejandro Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement shared with the Texas Tribune the state open records law had not been violated because Paxton was not conducting official state activity at the rally and characterized the complaint as a sham intended to reignite hysteria surrounding the Capitol attack.
Paxton has since undertaken several legal efforts related to voter fraud allegations, including establishing an election integrity unit to investigate fraud claims and filing a motion with the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn its ruling that determined the AG cannot unilaterally prosecute election cases due to the separation of powers clause of the Texas Constitution.
“With its opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed a lower court’s bipartisan opinion and broke with over a century of Texas Supreme Court precedent.” Texas Republican Party Communications Director James Wesolek said in a written statement in support of Paxton. “In contrast, the Texas Legislature has given the Texas Attorney General’s Office authority to prosecute election fraud and further emphasized that authority just a few months ago in Senate Bill 1, the election integrity bill. This decision is bad for Texas.”
Wesolek continued, “Now, Texans will be forced to rely on their local prosecutors to investigate and prosecute election fraud. This most likely means large urban areas and liberal strongholds will have no recourse to pursue election fraud.”
Paxton’s tenure as the state’s top attorney has been plagued by legal troubles since the start and he faces a crowded field of primary challengers ahead of his 2022 midterm reelection campaign, as previously reported by The Well News. Neither Paxton’s office nor campaign responded to inquiries from TWN regarding the DA’s letter or the newspapers’ complaints.
Texas Democrats have honed in on Paxton’s legal issues as AG ahead of the 2022 midterms, in which he must contend with four primary challengers and the Democratic nominee in the general election. In a statement commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued a written statement disavowing Republican leaders from Texas for their role in the attack.
“The consequences of the ‘big lie’ that fueled these attacks has led to Texas passing one of the most restrictive voting laws in our country,” Hinojosa said in the statement. “Proving that Texas Republicans will stop at nothing to keep their power — even at the expense of our most sacred values as Americans.
“While Texas Republicans have spent the last year pandering to [extremists], and coddling insurrectionists, even welcoming a slew of them with open arms as candidates for Congress and statewide offices, Democrats have worked to protect the country from the GOP’s dangerous agenda. We know what is at stake if we sit by and allow the events of Jan. 6 to be erased and rewritten.”
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